Chichen Itza: The First Ball Games Played In Teams

The Mesoamerican city of Chichen Itza is home to the best-preserved, and largest playing court for the first ball sports played in a team.

The popular sport is known as the "Ball Game" and has been played since 1650BCE. It was played by all its major civilizations from the Olmecs to the Maya to the Aztecs.

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Sports are one of humanity's oldest inventions

The earliest athletic competitions seem to be simple wrestling contests that are represented in cave paintings.

Other popular sports included foot-races, chariot-races, boxing, swimming, and archery. The Ball Game was probably the first sport that resembled modern team ball sports.

Chichen Itza:  one of the greatest Mayan centers

Chichen Itza was founded by the Itza, a Mayan tribe, and was once one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatan peninsula. The Mayan civilization created the most highly developed writing system in the Americas before Columbus landed. The Mayans are also known for a sophisticated calendar and huge architecture.

Today Chichen Itza is a sprawling ruined city in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula in modern Mexico. Several prominent stone structures of the city are well-preserved, such as the Warrior's Temple, the Temple of Kukulcan, and the El Caracol - a circular observatory.

  • Chichen Itza buildings were originally brightly painted in shades of red, green, and blue.
  • The wealthy wore similarly colorful dyed clothes made from animal skins.
  • The staple of the Mayan diet, maize, was often boiled in water with lime and eaten as a gruel or porridge mixed with chili pepper, or made into a dough for baking tortillas, flat cakes, or tamales.
  • At its peak, the city had a population of 50,000 people.
  • In the nortwest part of the city is the ceremonial wall of skulls from victims of human sacrifice.
The great ball court from Chichen Itza
  • The court of Chichen Itza is a massive 225 feet wide and 545 feet long.
  • At the ends of the court, the stone walls featured stone hoops, engraved with feathered serpents - images of the deity Kokulkan.
  • The court has excellent acoustic qualities, amplifying the cheers of fans and the calls of the ballplayers.
  • The sides of the court are lined with benches for spectators. The benches are sloped to help keep the ball in the courts.
  • At the end of many games, the losing team was beheaded and sacrificed to the Mayans' deities. That said, the Ball Game occasionally served as a substitute for war.
  • A variation of the Ball Game, Ulama is still played today— minus the ritual killing of the losing team.

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